35 Interesting Facts About Owls

  1. There are more than 200 species of owls. They are present in all parts of the earth except Antarctica and a few remote islands.
  2. The oldest known fossil of an owl is the 60-million-year-old leg bone. The almost complete owl fossil is 55 million years old. (Source)
  3. Owls are divided into two families: typical owls and barn owls. The most prominent feature of barn owls is their heart-shaped facial disc.
  4. Owls are the most famous nocturnal (active during the night) birds. They can see better at night due to a large number of rods (used for better vision at night) compared to a few cones (used for color vision) in the retina of their eyes. Their large eyes also allow them to grasp a lot of light rays. (Source)
  5. However, not all owl species are nocturnal. Northern hawk owls and northern pygmy owls are the two completely diurnal (active during the day) species. Apart from them, few owl species are crepuscular (active at dawn or dusk). (Source)
  6. Owls have poor senses of smell and taste. They use their excellent vision and hearing to find prey. Lack of smell assists them in preying upon animals like skunks. Most other animals avoid them due to their unpleasant scent. (Source)
  7. Blakiston’s fish owl is the largest species of owl. This owl has the body size of a human child and a wingspan of 2 meters. (Source)
  8. The elf owl is the smallest, with a length of up to 5.7 in (14.5 cm). This desert-dwelling owl of North America lives in holes inside the cactus. (Source)
  9. Owls have different eye colors according to their activity time. Nocturnal owls have eyes of black or dark brown color. Diurnal owls have yellow eyes, while orange eyes belong to owls that hunt at dusk or dawn.
  10. Owls have fixed eyes that cannot move. Their eyes make up 3% of their body weight. In contrast to their sharp distant vision, they cannot see closer things well. They have extraordinary depth perception due to binocular vision (seeing an object with both eyes simultaneously). They contain three eyelids for better protection of the eyes. Great horned owls have the largest eyes, while tawny owls have the sharpest vision among owls.
  11. A unique quality of owls is their silent flight. They do so by using their large wings and unusual structure of feathers that act as a silencer. (Source)
  12. Scientists have used the knowledge of this amazing silent flight of large owls to develop new sound-reducing material. It helps reduce the noise of wind turbines, airplanes, and other man-made wings. (Source)
  13. Owls have asymmetrical ears, with the left ear in a lower position than the right one. It assists pinpoint the source of a sound. At frequencies of above 5 kHz, their hearing is more sensitive than other birds. (Source)
  14. The great grey owl has the largest facial disc of any raptor. This shape of the face assists in gathering sound.
  15. Owls are one of the best friends of farmer due to their hunting of animals (moles, rats, etc.) that destroy crops at night. A single owl family can consume 6000 to 9000 rodents in a year. Due to this reason, few owl species of (especially barn owls) are used as natural pest control by farmers. They are known to provide one of the best non-toxic rodent control methods. (Source)
  16. Sometimes, owls can prove dangerous for humans. Few incidents have been reported of owls attacking humans. (Source)
  17. Few species of owls can rotate their heads at 270 degrees. No other animal can turn its head at this level. They can do so without sustaining physical damage due to their unique bone and vascular structure. They have 14 cervical vertebrae compared to 7 in humans. The bony canal in their neck is ten times bigger than the human’s canal. (Source)
    owl sitting on a tree
    Few owls can rotate head 270 degrees

  18. Owls usually cannot digest their food completely due to lack of crop, weak bills, and mild stomach acid. Therefore, the indigestible food particles (bones, fur, feathers, etc.) are expelled as pellets. It keeps their digestive system healthy. (Source)
  19. In Ancient Greece, the flight of an owl over the army before a battle was considered a sign of victory.
  20. In a few civilizations, owls are considered wise. In others, they symbolize ill omen and darkness due to their nighttime activities, silent flight, and hooting sounds.
  21. In contrast to popular opinion, owls are not intelligent. They have a small brain-to-body ratio and cannot understand even slightly complex situations. (Source)
  22. Most of the owl species roost in holes inside trees. These are either natural holes or those built by woodpeckers. Others use vacant nests built by birds like crows, hawks, etc.
  23. Few owls eat owls of other species. Snowy owls and northern hawk owls eat short-eared owls and boreal owls, respectively. Great horned owls hunt several owl species.
  24. Owls are carnivores that eat animals, including insects, small and large birds, voles, mice, lizards, snakes, fish, rabbits, etc.
  25. Owls have very few predators. These include foxes, bobcats, eagles, hawks, etc. These animals usually hunt owlets or small owl species. Owls defend themselves by using their strong talons and beaks, or by camouflage.
  26. Owls lay more eggs than other raptors. Their eggs are more spherical than the eggs of any bird. If the food is inadequate, the older chick will survive while the weaker one may starve.
  27. Owls produce several sounds in different circumstances. These include hoots, growls, barks, screeches, etc.
  28. Burrowing owls are different from other owls that live in nests. They are ground-dwelling birds with long legs. They live in burrows dug by other animals in the open, treeless habitat. These owls are crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk).
  29. Like raptors, female owls are larger than male owls. Males are larger than females in most of the other birds.
  30. Around 17% of owl species are critically endangered, endangered, or vulnerable due to loss of habitat, hunting, diseases, and eating insects affected by insecticides. 
  31. Owls can swim, but they rarely do that as a last resort while running from predators. They may swim when young or while escaping falcons or other dangerous flying birds. (Source)
  32. Owls are present in almost all habitats, including tundra, grasslands, rainforests, etc. Various species have adapted according to their specific habitat. 
  33. Owls are not considered good pets. It is because they are nocturnal, carnivorous and need consistent care and a lot of space.
  34. Owls rarely drink water, and usually fulfill their water requirement from the food they eat. Few species may eat snow if fresh water is not available. 
  35. The lifespan of owls differs by species. Great horned owls are considered the longest-living that can reach around 30 years of age.


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